Mention high fashion sunglasses and the name that immediately springs to mind is Ray-Ban. This iconic brand has carved itself a unique place in the world of eye wear and its sunglasses have graced the faces of many famous figures, both male and female, for decades. Over the years Ray-Ban has earned a reputation for superb design, excellent performance and an unmistakable sophistication that has made it recognizable to the world over.
Ray-Ban is a brand of sunglasses and eyeglasses founded in 1937 by the American company Bausch & Lomb. The brand is best known for their Wayfarer and Aviator lines of sunglasses. In 1999, Bausch & Lomb sold the brand to the Italian eyewear conglomerate Luxottica Group, for a reported US$640 million.
In 1929, US Army Air Corps Colonel John A. Macready worked with Bausch & Lomb, a Rochester, New York-based medical equipment manufacturer, to create aviation sunglasses that would reduce the distraction for pilots caused by the intense blue and white hues of the sky. Specifically, MacCready was concerned about how pilots’ goggles would fog up, greatly reducing visibility at high altitude. The prototype, created in 1936 and known as ‘Anti-Glare’, had plastic frames and green lenses that could cut out the glare without obscuring vision. They also added impact-resistant lenses in 1938.The sunglasses were redesigned with a metal frame the following year and patented as the Ray-Ban Aviator. According to the BBC, the glasses used “Kalichrome lenses designed to sharpen details and minimize haze by filtering out blue light, making them ideal for misty conditions.
Ray-Ban’s most popular sunglasses are the Wayfarer, and Aviator models. During the 1950s, Ray-Ban released the Echelon (Caravan), which had a squarer frame. In 1965, the Olympian I and II were introduced; they became popular when Peter Fonda wore them in the 1969 film Easy Rider. The company has also produced special edition lines, such as The General in 1987, bearing similarity to the original aviators worn by General Douglas MacArthur during the Second World War.
After decades of producing its famous sunglasses in 1999, the Global Eyewear Division of Bausch & Lomb, including Ray-Ban was acquired by Luxottica Group for US$640 million, including the Wayfarer and Aviator brands, the company then concentrated determinedly on moving into the eye surgery business by purchasing Storz instruments and Chiron Vision.
The Ray-Ban Principles
Ever since its invention, the Ray-Ban has been all about aspiration. From its original concept of sunglasses for American airmen, and through its many celebrity endorsements, Ray-Ban has marketed itself as the brand that everyone wants to be seen in. Owning a pair of Ray-Bans should be the ultimate dream for every fashion-conscious individual who wants to look like their hero. The invention of the Ray Ban Aviator
The invention of the iconic Ray-Ban Aviator brand has its roots in the meteoric rise of the power of flight. In the 1930s the swift development of military aircraft design allowed pilots to travel ever farther, faster and higher. But this created a problem.
Pilots reported that the high levels of glare they experienced as they flew high and fast were leading to vision problems, headaches and altitude sickness. This naturally reduced their ability to function at the high levels needed for military action. A solution was needed. Sometime previously, Lieutenant General John McCready had taken a balloon flight. During this balloon flight, he had been dazzled by the sun. He then conceived the idea of a pair of dark glasses which would shade his eyes while letting him see what was around him. McCready was convinced that this type of eyewear would solve the problem of glare for the pilots. He approached B&L with a request to create sunglasses that could limit the glare without restricting the pilots’ vision. B&L set to work on developing dark glasses. Following several experiments, the prototype sunglasses with plastic frames and green lenses were produced in 1936. Thus the Aviator appeared.
The following year the plastic frames were replaced by metal ones. However, it was considered that the term ‘anti-glare’ wasn’t sufficiently striking enough to sum up the appeal of these new glasses. So the term ‘Ray-Ban’ was adopted instead, along with the Aviator tag as a nod to the aviation link. And the rest, as they say, is history. The Ray-Ban Aviator was such a success that it wasn’t only the pilots who were wearing them. Contemporary photos show them being used by the high-ranking officers as well and before too long, they were considered to be synonymous with the glamorous lifestyle of the military pilot. This set in motion the trend for Ray-Bans to be marketed as a premium product which has been continued throughout the following seven and a half decades. The B&L Ray-Ban years Ray Ban in the 30s (The Aviator, Shooter and Outdoorsman) the invention of the Aviator in 1936 marked the start of the Ray-Ban rise to fame. Within a couple of years the use of Ray-Bans had moved beyond military use and others who lived, worked and played outdoors began to see the benefits.
In 1938 B&L released the Ray-Ban Shooter, specifically designed for rifle users, with a choice of green or yellow lenses. The yellow lenses were especially useful as they filtered out blue light, enhancing detail and minimizing haze, so making it much easier for users to operate in misty conditions. The design also included a so-called ‘cigarette circle’ center which allowed the wearer to keep both hands free, which has become the Shooter’s signature feature.
Hard on the heels of that success, in 1939 B&L introduced the Ray-Ban Outdoorsman, marketed at hunters, shooters and fishing enthusiasts. Originally known as ‘Skeet Glass’, the defining feature of this brand is the various coverings for the top bar and temple ends, such as nacre and calf leather.
Ray-Ban under Luxottica
The history of Luxottica
In many ways it seemed almost inevitable that Ray-Ban would end up in the hands of Luxottica. Founded by Italian Leonardo Del Vecchio in 1961, Luxottica began life in Agordo and located in Milan. Del Vecchio was initially trained as a tool and die maker, but eventually he decided to turn his hand to making parts for eyewear instead. He moved to Agordo, the heart of the Italian eyewear industry and set up his company with others to create eyeglasses.
As time passed, the company became convinced of the need to take control of all aspects of operation, buying a distribution company (Scarrone) in 1974, and then moving on to set up a series of important contract services with such well-known companies as Armani and Vogue. It acquired shares in a number of optical companies and bought out other eyeglass providers, including OPSM and Pearl Vision. It went on to buy Erroca for €20 million and Oakley for US$2.1 billion, making it by far the largest eyeglass company on the world.
Today Luxottica accounts for over 80% of the market, encompassing the eyeglass operations of a multitude of household names including Versace, Stella McCartney, Burberry, Chanel and Armani, to name but a few. Ray-Ban in the 21st century . Luxottica began by re-designing the Ray-Ban in 2000 to take account of the new fashion trends. In a significant design re-modelling known as RB2132, the size of the frames was reduced and acetate was rejected in favour of lighter plastic.
However, Luxottica then set out to revive the fortunes of the Ray-Ban brand by launching a major expansion, which was subsequently followed by a decade-long flurry of activity.
The Ray-Ban Optical optimized prescription sunglasses in 2003. Its aim was to blend superb design and matchless attention to detail in its craftsmanship, whilst always drawing on the cultural roots that made Ray-Bans so popular. Also in 2003, Luxottica launched Ray-Ban Junior, a range of sunglasses designed specifically for fashion-conscious children aged 8-12. This range was further expanded in 2005 to include hypo-allergenic frames that are lightweight but durable.
2006 saw the overhauling of the iconic Wayfarer model, with music photographer Mick Rock commissioned to create a memorable portfolio of images to bring the Wayfarer squarely into the modern era. Indie rock musicians were hired for this innovative project known as ‘Ray-Ban Uncut: The Wayfarer Session, and artist such as Peaches, James Murphy of LCD Sound system, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and Johnny Marr of The Smiths all offering their own contemporary take on the new Wayfarer design.
A masterly publicity campaign in 2007, entitled ‘Never Hide’, harnessed the concept that Ray-Ban users simply needed to be true to their own identity to make themselves the center of attention. The campaign involved instantly recognizable personalities from the past and present,, combined with ‘ordinary’ Ray-Ban users who wanted to stand up and be counted. The world-wide nature of this innovation made a huge impact on the continued success of the brand.
Ray-Ban continued to blend the culture of celebrity seamlessly in its publicity campaigns, for example, with the Ray-Ban Re-masters project of 2008. Well-known musicians like The Kills, Black Kids, Ladyhawke, Ipso Facto and Paolo Nutini performed cover versions from the 50s and 60s to recall the popular Ray-Ban Club master design of the time.
On the back of the Never Hide campaign, Never Hide Colorise was born. Wayfarer fans could create their own unique colour designs using special pens on a white frame, whilst other innovations included printing unique designs (e.g. New York subway maps), onto the inner surfaces of the glasses.
The ‘Rare Prints’ range delved once more into movie and music culture with a series of themed prints to give Ray-Bans a contemporary edge, based around the concepts of ‘Buttons Pins’ and ‘Comics’. And more recently, Ray-Ban has also marketed itself specifically to the LGBT community by incorporating rainbow colors into its advertising.
But in the midst of all this imaginative brand promotion, Ray-Ban did not neglect the technological aspects of their design. Always looking to improve its signature product, it launched the Ray-Ban Tech Fiber Collection, utilizing the very latest in eye wear manufacturing techniques.
The wrap-around frame construction is fashioned from seven layers of lightweight carbon fiber, making the glasses durable and extremely flexible to resist accidental damage. The lenses have similar ground-breaking features. Created from poly carbonate and crystal, these lenses which superb polarization capabilities, as well as natural high-definition color vision, a special reflective coating to eliminate glare, and enhanced UV protection.
Throughout this decade, Luxottica have continued the successful strategy of marrying celebrity endorsement, using a multi-faceted approach to raising the profile of the brand (e.g. themed music concerts). The Never Hide campaign has continued with world-wide publicity events, keeping the main ethos unchanged whilst re-inventing the application of that ethos.
Ray-Ban started life as a cutting edge technological breakthrough to solve a problem in the relatively new world of aviation. And that the future for Ray-Ban may lie in a similar ground-breaking innovation which is very much of the 21st century. On March 24 2014, Ray-Ban signed a deal with Google to collaborate in developing Google Glass. What is Google Glass? Google Glass is basically a piece of wearable technology. This looks similar to an ordinary pair of glasses, but enables the wearer to carry out many of the functions of a laptop or mobile device. This voice-activated device lets you access the internet, store information, make calls, take photos in fact, all the functions the modern, seamlessly connected user wants, but in an unobtrusive form.
Ray-Ban started with the aim of being at the very forefront of eye wear development, designing and manufacturing sunglasses that gave outstanding performance as well as being totally fashionable. As it approaches its 75th anniversary, it seem the Ray-Ban brand has every intention of maintaining this forward-looking approach and continuing to deliver iconic sunglasses that look beautiful and give unrivaled sun protection.